When dalliance was in flower and maidens lost their heads.
— A 1957 release of bawdy English ballads sung by Ed McCurdy
It is time to review the rules for confessions of infidelity by public figures. They do not address toilet stall tap dancing since that, being a solo performance, raises different issues from the dalliances here addressed. These involve married couples. A number of matters of etiquette present themselves and the ones we examine are: attendance at the required press conference (who does and does not attend), tears (presence or absence) and apologies.
The proper place for the wife during the public confession of infidelity is first. In the John Ensign and Mark Sanford press conferences the wives were absent. In the Eliot Spitzer and David Vitter press conferences the wives were present although a study in contrasts. Mr. Spitzer’s wife assumed a stoical stance standing by her husband’s side although reports said Ms. Spitzer’s jaws were so firmly clenched that she could have bitten through a bar of steel. Mr. Vitter’s wife stood beside him but that came as something of a surprise since she had once said, about the possibility of her husband’s infidelity,: “I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.” John Edwards had an interview on ABC News without his wife and then issued a statement.
The next question: tears. The score is four to one against. Governor Sanford of South Carolina was the one. That may be explained because of his deep religious feelings and his understandable self loathing. He feels so strongly about the importance of family values that when voting for the impeachment of Bill Clinton he piously proclaimed that: “If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone. . . .I think what he did in this matter was reprehensible. . . .” He didn’t just shed a tear or two. He reportedly choked up repeatedly during the press conference. That was consistent with his activities earlier in the week that he described as being spent with his mistress in Argentina crying (presumably, though unspoken, among other activities.)
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All the men were appropriately contrite. They knew that in addressing their transgressions their apologies had to be heartfelt and all encompassing. David Vitter set the tone by announcing that God and his wife had already forgiven him (she by eschewing emasculation) and said the discussions would be limited to those two. He concluded, however, saying: I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.” Eliot Spitzer said that: ”I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.” John Edwards, lamenting the paucity of the English language, said: “It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry.” Senator Ensign said: “I know that I have deeply hurt and disappointed my wife Darlene, my children, my family, friends, my staff, and all those who believed in me. And to all of them, especially my wife, I’m truly sorry.” Senator Sanford said: “I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. And all I can say is I apologize.”
It is surely a coincidence that the Europeans choose moments when we are in a dither over the private sex lives of public figures to show us that groveling because of sexual peccadilloes is unnecessary in truly civilized societies. The reaction to disclosure of the fact that Mr. Spitzer found pleasure in prostitutes seemed foolish when compared with the equanimity with which the French greeted the goings on of Nicholas Sarkozy, his then wife and their respective lovers and his then political opponent, Ségolène Royal and her long time partner, François Holland. There was no groveling. And now, courtesy of the Italians, the contrast is again stark.
The wife of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has announced her intention to divorce him, in no small part because of pictures of him cavorting with young girls at his assorted mansions. Mr. Berlusconi’s equanimity is undisturbed. He maintains that his cavorting is perfectly harmless. When three women, not quite so young, came forward saying they were paid to attend parties at his official residence and were given jewelry Mr. Berlusconi was asked if he had ever paid a woman “so she would be with him.” Responding as one might exact from a man of his temperament he said: “Naturally, no. I have never understood what satisfaction there is if not in the pleasure of conquest. There is nothing in my private life for which I should apologize.”
The French and Italians know how what importance to place upon adultery in their national dialogue. We should be so civilized.